Monday, 2 November 2015

If Walls Could Talk: Poets in Gaslight

Poetry isn't my thing. I never quite learnt how to say something in ten words instead of a hundred or so. And I've always been long-winded.

But poetry readings aren't just about words or the process of emoting them. It has a long history, back in the day when thumbdrives and cloud computing were as mythical (and probably impossible) as the spiritual beings and lands that were part of what was orally passed around - sometimes accompanied by music - and stored in heads.

Part of the crowd at the Gaslight Café that night

So a poetry reading at Gaslight Café in Bukit Damansara was a nice change of pace, especially on a rainy evening after work and the passing (hopefully) of a horrendous haze season.

This event, the tenth "If Walls Could Talk" session, was part of a month-long celebration of the first anniversary of the Malaysian Writers Facebook Group. And a good excuse to drop by the café for the first time. Gaslight's a nice spot, but I don't drink, and I didn't feel like anything other than water; what'd I'd been feeling that night was the onset of a sinus infection.

We were told Melizarani T. Selva was away on a journalistic assignment, so spoken word artist Sheena Baharudin was roped in for emcee duty. Sheena's also an educator, writer of Rhymes for Mending Hearts and founder of the local multidisciplinary performing arts gig Numinous.

"Pay attention or I burn you with my 'third eye'..." Sheena Baharudin
took the mic as emcee and poet

She tried to ramp up the atmosphere with a reading of "Moles" which I think I'd heard before, but I guess she wasn't feeling it. Or did she forget some of the words?

Anyway, she managed to pull it off at half-time and I think she should keep her moles.

The first poet to take the stage was Dhiyanah Hassan, "an artist/writer ... whose works orbit around memories and desires, tracing myths in personal narratives, symbolisms that become vital in navigating internal and external landscapes."

(I'm relying mostly on the profiles supplied by the MYWriters people because I hardly know most of the performers. And thanks to my nose, the gaps in my memory of that night were embarrassingly large and frequent. I'm also ticked off with the quality of the camera's low-light photos so I haven't been very precise with the photo compositions.)

Dhiyanah Hassan

I've known Kathleen Choo for a bit longer. She "co-founded the Poetry Underground writer's collective with the Poets of the Underground one fateful year" and, from time to time, surfaces from her currently hectic life to do gigs like this.

Nice boots, Kath

I don't think the crowd that night was prepared for Kath. She did look like she just got out of bed, threw a few things together and rushed to this event. When her set ended, however, BOOM. Where did she come from? the assembled seemed to wonder. Yes, you can believe she did co-found a poets' collective.

(Okay, she fumbled a bit, too. Some days it happens even to the best.)

And yes, she does have a spot (two, in fact) at Publika's so-called "Poetry Walk". This one has a part that succinctly, beautifully describes the pulse of a city.

YOUR poem will never be good enough for Publika's walkway floor

Oh, and she also had a brief news-reading stint at BFM89.9 a few years ago. The first few times she came on I couldn't believe my ears until I asked around for confirmation.

Next was Uthaya Sankar SB, who I consider one of the eminent writers of the Malay language. His fluency in Malay is still something you have to see and hear for yourself.

Uthaya Sankar SB

Of course, his Tamil's pretty hot, too. He opened his set with a short Tamil poem and said, "One thing about poetry readings is that even though you don't know the language, you can still appreciate the poem."

Nari! Nari!, his much-publicised book of Indian folk tales, was one of the many on sale. I bought a copy and- wa lau, they have serial numbers?

Lara Hassan "has been writing from when she was little, although Across Dreamlands (2015) is her first published collection of prose and poetry. She released limited copies of her unpublished chapbook, Small Talk with the Moon in 2009."

Lara Hassan ... any relation to Dhinayah Hassan?

Wani Ardy and The Guitar Polygamy "embodies the spirit of self-discovery and wonderment." Described as a senikatawati (nice), hers was perhaps the most unforgettable performance of the evening. She performed several pieces from her books, published by Sang Freud Press.

Wani Ardy and The Guitar Polygamy: seriously awesome.

Vocalising her poems to the tunes of the band, it was almost like she was singing, yet not quite. What I can get was that something ancient and spine-tinglingly spiritual was going on, even if the instruments were electronic. About thirty seconds into each piece, I imagined many of the patrons were internally moaning F—.

One of the poems, Gula Melaka (page 73 in her book, Langit Vanila, I believe), was particularly memorable: a chaste taste of the kind of intimacy a woman feels in her lover's embrace - with a local flavour.

After the half-time break, the event resumed with readings by Khor Hui Min. A book editor in educational publishing, "her most recent publications include three poems published by Eastlit, and two short short stories published in 'As Life Found Me' from the Taylor's University 'Stories From...' series."

Khor Hui Min

Michelle Leong "is a banker by qualification ... yet a passionate writer". I'd heard about her book The Black Cheongsam and even flipped through a few pages. But I don't know much else.

Michelle Leong

I was equally sheepish to know nothing of Dr Raja Rajeswari Seetha Raman, who "earned her Doctorate Degree in Malay Literature from Academy of Malay Studies, University Malaya. She has a collection of poem and 30 anthologies(!) published by leading publications in Malaysia.

"Recipient of the National Literary Award(!!), her poems have been translated into English, German and in the process of translation in Thai language(!!!). Her book, Mekar Bunga ("Blooming Flower"), is a compilation of 50 poems on various themes such as nature, humanity, patriotism and love for peace."

Dr Raja Rajeswari Seetha Raman

Dr Raja's delivery of her poems was strident and stirringly patriotic. I don't know if the others felt the urge to place a hand on their chests as she read.

When Dr Jayati Roy showed up, I wondered why she looked so familiar.

MYWriters billed her as having "a varied cache of experiences as an educationist, having spent many years as a lawyer, banker, management consultant and professor. Her earlier publications mainly focused on school text books and non-fiction. She is currently completing an anthology of Malaysian short stories and poems."

Dr Jayati Roy

Her book, In the Shadow of My Pen, translated from the Bengali (Amar Kolomer Chaya), "recollects her early life and shares many of her varied experiences growing up in Malaysia."

Then I remembered. She appeared in another book, albeit under an alias. The author of that book had sampled her bright, delightful wit and spoke to me about it, but it was only on that night that we had a taste of it - and clamoured for more.

Angelina Bong was the last official poet for the night's line-up. The Sarawak-born poet and visual artist "with a background in Fashion Design ... represented Malaysia in the lingual arts-poetry category at the 3rd Delphic Games 2009 at Jeju Island. Since then, her poetic performances have travelled to South Korea, South Africa, Botswana, Australia and the UK." (Damn, what's with everybody's impressive CVs?)

Angelina Bong

Her set brought another kind of unearthly feel to the space at Gaslight, one that's more like a forest setting. Apt, considering her background.

Overall, a wonderful evening. And I'll be sure to keep an eye on some of these performers' future appearances.


  1. Hey thanks for the wonderful feedback. Hope you enjoyed my 'unearthly' performance!

    1. Oh dear, is this still being read?

      Thanks for the performance and for commenting. Everyone was great.


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